With Renault losing McLaren’s custom to Mercedes for the 2021 Formula 1 season, the French manufacturer finds itself as the only engine manufacturer in F1 without a customer team (Mercedes supplies McLaren, Williams and Aston Martin, Ferrari: Alfa Romeo and Haas and Honda: Red Bull and Alpha Tauri).
Not only does it deprive them of a revenue stream, increasing overall development costs but it also cuts their development and track time since just their own works team – rebranded as Alpine for 2021 – will make use of its power units for at least 2021 and, at this stage, beyond.
This could hinder them in the PU arms race as they endeavour to claw back some of Mercedes’ advantage at the head of the field.
And so, it makes sense for Renault to put the feelers out to see if any other teams would be interested in taking their engines as from 2022 (everyone’s committed for 2021).
The problem is, of Formula 1’s ten teams, Three are manufacturer teams (Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault themselves) with their own engine supply. Red Bull, currently Mercedes’ main challenger for titles, acrimoniously split with Renault two years ago and are in the midst of engineering a deal with Honda for the provision of PUs beyond 2020 when the Japanese giant withdraws from F1 for both RBR and its junior F1 team Alpha Tauri. Ferrari have a long-term agreement with Haas, and have recently extended their deal with Sauber/Alfa Romeo.
Mercedes have contracts with each of the remaining three teams – Aston Martin with whom they are most closely entwined, McLaren who are about to embark on a new McLaren-Mercedes chapter, and Williams who have only recently announced a strengthening of their relationship with the German marque who will now take their entire ‘back end’ from the world champions.
So, unfortunately for Renault, this leaves them a bit short of options.
However, according to motorsport.com Renault have made “first contact” with Williams with regards to an engine supply deal for 2022.
Williams are in the process of a comprehensive restructuring following their sale to US investment firm Dorilton Capital in August 2020, and so a change of engine supplier isn’t something that would phase them at this time, especially if it were to benefit them in some way – whether it be financially or from a performance perspective. And they’re not contracted to Mercedes for 2022.
But while 2 + 2 might = 4 when it comes to ‘Renault want a team to supply’ and ‘Williams are the only real possibility’, when you consider the strengthening of the relationship between the Williams and Mercedes – announced in January of this year – that will include the supply of gearboxes, (something Williams designed and built in-house until last year but have since stopped production of) and that Renault don’t traditionally supply gearboxes, it looks less likely.
Couple that with the fact that the design of teams’ 2022 challengers – built to a new Formula – is already fully underway, and that accommodating a new PU at this stage would be challenging, and Williams-Renault starts to look like pure F1 speculation at a time where there isn’t much to speculate on.
But never say never, and if Renault are keen enough they might make Williams an offer they can’t refuse (I’m thinking financially rather than horses heads in beds!), and Dorilton – seeking bang for buck – might quite like the idea of that.